Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Frankenstein - The Modern Prometheus

Prometheus secretly stole fire from the Gods and gave it to the people. When discovering this, Zeus punished him eternally by chaining him on a rock, where each day a bird ate his liver, only for the liver to grow back again during the night. Victor Frankenstein, the unfortunate scientist, is a parallel figure of Prometheus. He stole God's secret by artificially creating a human being. He was also reprimanded for his actions. Interestingly, Shelly views both Prometheus and Frankenstein not as heros, but as devils, who acquired God's powers to serve humanity but achieved the opposite effect - degradation, alienation, and loneliness.

Mary Shelley, born in the end of the 18th century, was the wife of the famous English poet Percy Shelley. She wrote Frankenstein, her most famous work, when she was only 19 years old. Many critics have wondered how a girl of her age possessed such a profound understanding and deep imagination. Thus, rumors have spread that the real author of Frankenstein is her husband, Percy Shelley. Whether he only helped her or wrote the whole story himself, Frankenstein remains one of the earliest examples of science fiction and a strong warning against the technological expansion. Although there is a castle in Germany, called Frankenstein, Shelley derived the name from a different source. "Frank" comes from Benjamin Franklin, who discovered the lighting cod, and "enstein" from a European medical doctor Eisenstein.

Victor Frankenstein is a prominent scientist, who discovers a way to create a real human being. However, his experiment goes wrong and the result is a hideous and scary monster. Disgusted by his invention, Frankenstein abandons his "child" in hope that it will just disappear by itself. The creature is never given a name, but often referred to as "demon", "monster", "devil". Left hopeless and alone, it attempts to find comfort, companionship and friendship among the people, who terrified of his appearance, respond with rejection, hate, and insults. As a result the "demon" decides to seek revenge from its creator, who brought it to life and abandoned it.

The novel raises numerous issues: scientists, using their knowledge and capabilities to act as Gods, the increasing levels of human loneliness and alienation, and the problem of judging others only by their outward appearance. As Frankenstein made a mistake with its creation, the world made a mistake with Shelley's novel. The author wanted to depict the creature as a tragic victim, who strived for human affection and understanding, but was denied it because of its appearance. She viewed the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, as the evil creator, who brought to live its invention and then abandoned it when seeing what it looked like.

The world named the creature after its creator and used it as a tool for fear and disgust. Somehow, we have misinterpreted Shelley's moral: she attempts to pose a warning against man acting as God and depicts the invention as the negative side of creation and creator. A warning as applicable today as it was back then in the light of the Industrial Revolution.

Check it out @ Amazon: Frankenstein.

1 comment:

  1. What, pray tell, is a "lightning cod"? sounds fishy to me. And can you give the citation in Kant for the epithet "Modern Prometheus" in a publication in Mary Shelley's lifetime? The essay "On Fire" in which Kant offered this epithet was not published until 1839